Joel Hanrahan is still a good pitcher. Sure, there are concerns about his weight and conditioning, and we’re still not sure what happened with his control this past season, but there’s no reason to believe that he won’t still be an effective closer in 2013.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are not trying to trade Hanrahan because they no longer believe in him. All things being equal, and by all things I mean his salary, the Pirates would like to hold on to their closer.
But because Hanrahan is in his last year before he hits free agency, Hanrahan is expected to make around $7 million this season. With a payroll of around $70 million, keeping Hanrahan would force the Pirates to dedicate roughly 10 percent of their payroll towards their closer. Few, if any, closers are worth 10 percent of any team’s payroll, and Hanrahan is not one of those closers.
The Pirates are reportedly in talks with the Boston Red Sox regarding uploading their closer, and are apparently asking for a “significant return.” But trading Hanrahan is not about what they get back. It’s about unloading his salary.
Whether the return is a marginal prospect or a current major league bullpen arm, it likely won’t be a “significant” acquisition. The closers market has not formulated this off-season in a way that benefits the Pirates, and teams are not in a hurry to give up anything significant for one year of a closer who comes with a certain amount of uncertainty.
But the most important thing for the Pirates is to get this deal done quickly. Having Hanrahan on the roster has limited their ability to make additional moves this winter. In order to take on any additional salary this winter, they need to first unload Hanrahan.
The Pirates inability to move Hanrahan has already hampered their activity this winter, and their options remaining on the free agent market are now limited. At this point, it is more important for them to get this move done and finish adding to their roster than it is to quibble over which middle reliever they get back in return.